Scientific approach wins Progressive Farmer award

Article taken from the FarmBusiness, written by Chris Lyddon

Kemble Farms, winner in the Progressive Farmer of the Year category, sponsored by Agrovista UK, of the 2013 Farm Business Food and Farming Industry Awards, impressed the judges with an analytical approach to everything they do.

For every aspect of production on this mixed farm enterprise, highly detailed analytical plans work to maximise profit and efficiencies – in drilling and cultivations, in animal health and fertility, in the use of assets in terms of people and skills.

Kemble Farms is a family-owned business in Gloucestershire, originally established in the 1920s by SJ Phillips.  Today, farmland consists of 900 hectares of cropping focusing on wheat, barley, oilseed rape and three forage crops.  Woodland, tracks and stewardship areas make up a further 115ha.  Contract farming agreements with two neighbours add a further 475ha to the combinable crops area and various agreements with other farms for forage cropping brings the total farmed area to 1,625ha.


The business has diversified into private residential rentals (using surplus former workers’ cottages), holiday lets (barn conversions), an equestrian yard established in former diary buildings, and anaerobic digestion, capturing renewable energy from cow slurry.

The diary element is the largest single enterprise at the farm and is the result of consolidation and expansion of the original four herds which Mr Phillips established.  Four herds were amalgamated into three in 1978 and then, with the introduction of quotas, into two.

In 1998, falling milk prices and facilities that were in need of serious attention triggered a rethink on whether to reinvest in dairying.  The family concluded that with a good market for liquid milk in this country there would be opportunities for an efficient milk production business to be profitable.

The current unit was commissioned in 1999 to house 550 cows.  Further expansion in 2007 saw the herd size increased to 750 by utilising off-site buildings for dry stock.  Following a recent project undertaken by the farm staff examining the implications of herd expansion, the herd currently runs to 900 cows with plans to further expand to 1,100.

The farm’s location, on thin limestone soils, means that the business is unable to rely on grazed grass for summer feed.  The dairy system that has evolved at Kemble is a high-output, three times-milked, fully-housed, all-year-round calving herd.

Great value is derived from the vet and independent nutritionist who both contribute hugely to the management of the enterprise and are seen as part of the dairy team.

Milk is marketed to Dairy Crest on a dedicated contract to Sainsbury’s.

Arable cropping consists of winter wheat, winter and spring barley and oilseed rape, and is complemented in the rotation by three forage crops; maize, lucerne and grass leys.  An area of permanent pasture is utilised by grazing dairy youngstock.

Two neighbouring arable farms are contract farmed, which brings the combinable cropping to 1,060ha.  Total forage areas amount to 400ha and there are 15ha of infield habitat area that are maintained as part of an Entry Level Stewardship agreement.

Minimum Tillage

All crops are established using min till techniques, minimising field traffic, compaction and establishment costs.  For example, one-year grass leys give maximum yield from a very quickly and cheaply established crop.

All of the farm’s tractors are fitted with RTK GPS systems which allow very efficient field working with no overlapping and the ability to return to the exact wheelings for subsequent fertiliser applications are controlled by satellite, and are variable rate, applying the product just where it is needed.

Two independent agronomists are used to provide specialist advice, one for combinable crops and one for forage crops.  Forage cropping is approached in exactly the same way as cash crops.

Cash crops are marketed through the merchant trade using specialist market advice and market indicators to achieve optimum prices.

The efficient use of forage crops, arable by-products and purchased by-products allows a stocking density of 3.3 LSU (large stock units) per hectare.

The diary team of 13 full-time staff has recently been increased to 15 following herd expansion to 900 cows and 725 youngstock.

The scale of operation means members of the team have the opportunity to specialise in specific areas of dairy cow management in which they can become very proficient.

  • The Progressive Farmer of the Year category of the Farm Business Food and Farming Awards 2013 was sponsored by Agrovista


07 March 2014

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